My name is Megan, today I’ll be sharing five mistakes that I made the first time that I went to live in Da Nang, Vietnam. These five things cost me time, stress, and money, and were things that I just didn’t think about until I ended up in some pretty sticky situations. The good news is that all of them can be easily avoided with a little bit of prior planning. So, if you are planning a trip to Da Nang, or to Vietnam in general, this post should be helpful. (music)
The first mistake to avoid is not being 100% certain on the visa processing times and visa requirements for Vietnam. The way it works as a Canadian, as well as for many other nationalities, is you can receive a visa on arrival but you need to apply for this visa on arrival, online, before you actually fly into the country. And, if you don’t apply online and you arrive at the airport and you don’t have your approval letter, you are in trouble.
The first time I went to Vietnam I was staying for less than one month, so I applied for a 30-day visa, which I could do online and I received the letter of approval within 24 hours, which is what I needed to bring with me when I arrived at the airport. The next time I was going to Vietnam I was staying there for a three-month period, so I needed to get a three-month visa. I went online, applied for my visa, and then found out that it was going to take one week of processing time to get my letter of approval. I was planning on going about three days later so I ended up having to rebook all of my flights in order get my letter of approval that I needed for when I would arrive in Vietnam.
My alternative, instead of rebooking all of my flights, was to instead get a one-month visa, which I could get the letter for in that 24-hour period, and then flying to Vietnam and get an extension while I was already in the country. What they didn’t tell me was that getting that extension would mean shipping my passport, or flying myself, up to Hanoi, then paying over USD 100 in Hanoi to get the three-month extension. It ended up being cheaper for me to rebook all of my flights and then just pay the standard $25 visa-on-arrival fee for a three month visa than it would have been to go through the whole process of extending.
The second mistake to avoid if you’re going to Vietnam, or Da Nang in particular, is not getting a SIM card at the airport. The first time that I went to Da Nang I thought that if I bought a SIM card from the airport when I arrived it was going to be overpriced, so I didn’t get one. And I can’t tell you how much you rely on data until you don’t have it, for things like Google Maps and even being able to book a ridesharing app to get me from the airport to where I was staying that first night. Vietnam is not like many North American countries where they charge you an arm and a leg if you want a data plan. You can get unlimited 4G high-speed data for around 10 or 11 US dollars a month.
So I knew that I was going to get a traveler SIM card, I was just adamant on not even looking at the SIM card stalls at the airport because I was set that I was going to be overcharged. This instead meant the next day I was wandering around the city, and there are lots of places where you can get a SIM card in the city of Da Nang, but if you’re not able to pull up those places on Google Maps… It complicated the whole process because I finally got my SIM card; it was the same price as what I would’ve paid at the airport. I’ve been going back year after year and I keep using Viettel, and their plan was 4G, it was great coverage, I got it at the airport for USD 10 for an entire month, the exact same price as if you wait for the city. So just get it when you arrive at the airport and it will save you so much hassle.
The third mistake to avoid is not setting up a voice over IP phone number before you arrive in Vietnam. If you are like me and many other travelers, you probably rely on apps like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp to stay in touch with family and friends. The problem with these messaging apps is that they don’t have a dial pad. So, if you needed to call your hotel, or you needed to call your airline or your travel insurance, you wouldn’t be able to do it through these apps.
Another problem that I faced with not having a phone number while I was in Vietnam was that I wasn’t able to download the ridesharing app Grab. And trust me, you want to use a ridesharing app. Grab is similar to Lyft or Uber, if you haven’t heard from it. But it saves you from having to hail a taxi, risk being scammed, overcharged, or having to direct a taxi on where to go because Grab puts it all into a map for you. The trouble is that, in order to download Grab and create an account, you have to put a phone number in and then be texted a code to that phone number to activate your account. Having a universal voice over IP number, which means that as long as you have data on your phone or you have access to Wi-Fi, you’re able to receive and send text messages from a phone number. This means you can also call a landline and you can also receive text messages if you need to download an app like Grab.
I did a whole post on how you can get a voice over IP phone number absolutely for free, so I’ll link that down below and won’t get into too many details with it here. I personally use Fongo. Another option could be Skype. I think Google Voice can also give you a phone number. And then, if you are just looking for just text messaging access – so again, for, like, downloading an app – there’s a program online called text free.
The fourth mistake to avoid is not taking the time to research how you will access and spend money once you arrive in Vietnam. I thought that I would do what I usually do in other countries around the world, which is use my debit card to access Vietnamese dong, the local currency, once I arrived. What I didn’t expect was that the ATMs in Da Nang were going to have very low withdrawal limits and very high withdrawal fees. This meant that for about every VDN two million, which is about USD 85, that I was withdrawing from the ATM, I would be charged a USD 10 fee. If you’re trying to make three months of rent in cash, plus the security deposit, and you’re being charged USD 10 for every $85 equivalent, or, like I said, VDN two million, it ends up costing you a lot of money to make these large sums in cash. So, at this point I thought, “Okay, I need an alternative.” I went to a currency converter and tried to convert my Canadian dollars into Vietnamese dong because they weren’t charging transaction fees. What I found out was that they don’t accept Canadian. Vietnam is still a very cash-based economy, so using my credit card was not only a security issue but also, more often than not, not even an option. So, on my first trip I ended up spending so much money in ATM fees.
What I recommend you do instead is, if it’s possible to get Vietnamese dong before you fly to Vietnam, do that and then otherwise, which is what I do, is I make sure I have a large currency like USD, Euro or Pound with me, and then when I arrive I’ll go to a foreign currency exchange and exchange my money that way; it ends up being the lowest fees. There are quite a few different foreign currency exchange centers around the city of Da Nang, and if you type that into Google Maps, you’ll be able to find them. I can also link the one that I go to down below. They’re very professional, very quick, and they give great rates.
The last mistake to avoid is not getting a VPN. When I first started traveling I didn’t know what a VPN was or why I needed one. So VPN stands for virtual private network, which is basically a service that’s going to encrypt your internet traffic and then protect your online identity. So, even if you have nothing to hide, I personally don’t like the idea that everything I’m doing online is being tracked and monitored. A VPN hides your IP address and then encrypts all the data that you’re sending and receiving online, so it’s going to provide extra security, which, guys, is so important, especially if you’re connecting to public Wi-Fi networks. Airports, the worst for getting hacked and having your identity compromised online, so, please, consider getting a VPN if you don’t already have one.
And then, in addition to protecting your identity, if you are traveling somewhere where websites are blocked, like Facebook, for example, in China, you can use a VPN to bypass this and then still access those sites. I only recognized that I needed a VPN when I was in Vietnam and then went to plug my Chromecast into the TV so I could stream Netflix, I pulled up Netflix and I had the Vietnamese version of it, not my Canadian version. At the time, I believe I was watching Breaking Bad so, as you can imagine, this was quite devastating. On a side note, if you know any TV show that is equivalent or better than Breaking Bad, please educate us in the comments below. I’m very curious. Anyway, I couldn’t access my Netflix account from Canada and I was seeing the Vietnamese version, which is not as good.
So, by getting a VPN, which costs a couple of dollars a month, I’m able to set my location to different places around the world despite where I was physically located. So not only could I set my location as Canada and get Canadian Netflix, I was able to set my location as US and get the American Netflix, especially three years ago there was a massive difference. It was in an effort to solve my superficial Netflix problem that I started researching VPNs and seeing all of the benefits of it. Something else I realized is that I could set my location to Canada when I was trying to access things like my email accounts or my bank account so I wasn’t being flagged with suspicious activity and then being frozen out of those accounts.
I can link who I use down below, it ends up being only a couple of dollars a month and it’s so worth it. You can also use it on all of your different devices, so definitely check out a VPN if you don’t already have one. So, in summary, if it’s going to be your first time in Vietnam – Da Nang in particular – make sure that you double-check those visa processing times, get a SIM card when you arrive at the airport and save yourself the time, review your money plan, sign up for a voice over IP phone number, and then sign up for a VPN and apply it to all of your devices.
These five simple things can end up saving you a lot of time and money and stress on your trip, so you can get back to just enjoying and having fun. Thank you so much for watching. Everything I mentioned will be linked down below. Let me know if you have any other tips, and then I hope you’ll give this post a thumbs-up and join me again for another post next week. Thanks for reading. Bye.